“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1994, 62–63
Answered by Brian L. Smith, director of the Portland (Oregon) Institute of Religion and a member of the Mountain View Ward, Beaverton Oregon Stake.
It is true that the Prophet Joseph Smith was visited by many heavenly messengers who helped inaugurate this final dispensation. Though we do not know how many such messengers appeared to the Prophet—or the purpose of some of their visits—we do know the circumstances and the nature of many of these visits. Heavenly beings came to Joseph Smith to bestow priesthood keys, to unfold the majesty and glory of future events, and to warn or to admonish the maturing Prophet. Certainly to a remarkable degree the Prophet Joseph Smith received communication from an array of angels who helped prepare him to carry out his foreordained mission.
President John Taylor said, “the principles which [Joseph Smith] had, placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another” (in Journal of Discourses, 21:94). Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve added that Joseph Smith “often received visits from Nephi, Moroni, Peter, James, John (the beloved), John (the Baptist), Elijah, Moses, the three Nephites, etc. etc.”1
The Prophet Joseph Smith witnessed firsthand “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) at the hands of heavenly emissaries. He is likely preeminent among prophets in regard to the large number of divine manifestations he experienced.2 It is appropriate and essential that prophets whose role it is to open gospel dispensations be blessed with an abundance of God-given revelations, visions, and manifestations that assist in the reestablishment of the gospel. The prophets Enoch, Abraham, and Moses are other examples.
Elder Wilford Woodruff taught that young Joseph Smith “was taught for years by visions and revelations, and by holy angels sent from God out of heaven to teach and instruct him and prepare him to lay the foundation of this Church” (in Journal of Discourses, 16:265).
Further, it is not surprising that Joseph Smith knew intimately the writings of Abraham, Moses, John, Nephi, and others and that ancient prophets likewise knew of and prophesied of him.3 In this way prophets throughout history have kept in touch with each other, passing on to their successors knowledge, testimony, and priesthood keys. For example, on at least twenty-two occasions, the former-day prophet Moroni came as a resurrected being to instruct, reprimand, or bless the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith.4
The “welding together” of dispensations, keys, powers, and glories referred to in D&C 128:18 was accomplished in part by ancient prophets involved in a variety of restoration assignments, culminating in the mission of the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 21:1–2, 7; D&C 35:17–18).
The prophetic privilege of being “taught from on high” and of receiving necessary priesthood keys and powers continues to rest with the President of the Church and his associates today. The channels of communication are ever open between God and his appointed leaders of his living church.
During the Restoration, many angelic messengers returned priesthood keys to establish divinely recognized authority once again upon the earth. This would be one of the most important steps in restoring the gospel in its fulness. The Prophet Joseph Smith carefully observed the divine timetable and protocol, exercising authority only when he had received the keys to do so.5 Eventually all of the keys, ordinances, and laws destined to come forth in the dispensation of the fulness of times were given to Joseph Smith (see Journal of Discourses, 16:267).
Following is a list of some of the personages who appeared to Joseph Smith to restore priesthood keys, to deliver divine instructions, or to perform other functions. The sources History of the Church and Journal of Discourses are abbreviated as HC and JD. The Prophet Joseph communicated with other messengers who previously had lived righteously on earth, but the precise nature of these visits is not known. These personages include Seth, Isaac, Jacob, and the Jewish and Nephite Apostles (see Journal of Discourses, 21:94). In addition, Joseph Smith saw other angels in vision, some of whom are identified in recorded revelation (see, for example, D&C 107:53; compare History of the Church, 3:388).
Latter-day Saints are blessed through the Prophet Joseph Smith’s great faith and mission that opened the windows of heaven. He was the preappointed agent through which communion with the heavens and the earthly ministry of angels were resumed in a grand manner. The mountain of truth built from the Prophet’s translations and revelations speaks for itself, towering above the stark foothills of earthly philosophy. This is amazing in light of young Joseph’s mortal inadequacy. Through faith, his weaknesses became strengths, and he nobly fulfilled his great foreordained mission—because heavenly messengers were his guides.
And we are among the beneficiaries: We have the wisdom of heaven—the riches of eternity—as found in sacred gospel ordinances and in holy scripture, both ancient and modern. In this way, we too are taught by former prophets, including Joseph Smith. In addition, besides possessing the legacy of former prophets, we have the special blessing of having the words and guidance of a living prophet as well!
Purpose of Appearance(s)
God the Father
Open dispensation, introduce the Son
Accept Kirtland Temple and direct bestowal of priesthood keys
Instruct, bestow the plates and Urim and Thummim
John the Baptist
Confer Aaronic Priesthood and its keys
D&C 13:1; HC 1:39–40
Peter, James, John
Confer Melchizedek Priesthood and its keys
D&C 27; HC 1:40–42 n.
Confer keys to gather Israel and ten tribes
Commit gospel of Abraham
Confer sealing power
D&C 128:21; HC 2:380; 3:388
Declare their respective dispensations
JD 16:266; 17:374; 21:161